In Issue 122 of Make-Up Artist magazine, we featured an article on the make-ups of Suicide Squad. Make-up and hair designer Alessandro Bertolazzi, wig supervisor Giorgio Gregorini and department head of the Killer Croc make-up effects, Christopher Nelson, have been named as contenders for the nomination for the 2017 Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar. As part of our continuing Oscar Watch 2017 coverage, we present the article here in its entirety.
As the tagline says, “Worst. Heroes. Ever.” Turning the typical comic book-based movie on its head, Suicide Squad focuses on a government agency that recruits imprisoned supervillains for a series of off-the-book black ops in return for clemency. Directed by David Ayer (Fury), it stars Will Smith (Deadshot), Jared Leto (The Joker), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) and Viola Davis (Amanda Waller, the government’s no-nonsense recruiter).
Headlining the film’s make-up department was make-up and hair designer Alessandro Bertolazzi, who admits surprise at getting the call from his former Fury director.
“I thought, ‘Why do you want me?’” he remembers. “I’m not a comic book guy, so after I arrived in Toronto, I didn’t unpack for the first four weeks, because I thought they were going to fire me. But David Ayer said, ‘I need you to do this movie, because you can help me find a different point of view!’
“David wanted everything to look real, and he knew I was obsessed with things like skin and organic textures and things that look real. With the character of Enchantress … [played by Cara Delevingne], we used a $3 mop as her wig. David came to the make-up department one night, so it was just me, [wig supervisor] Giorgio Gregorini and David, and we added feathers, mud and dust to make it look real. Enchantress was a three-hour make-up. We added white to the skin, as well as mud, charcoal, greens and browns, and then added gold leaf to the skin. That’s when it started to look real.
“The same for the other principal characters. With Harley Quinn, we originally ordered an expensive $1,000 wig, but I ended up using a really cheap-looking wig instead, because I wanted it to look rough.
“The Joker was a big challenge, because Heath Ledger had been so great [in The Dark Knight] so I started thinking about this guy as a sick clown. There’s something really dirty and sick inside him, and his skin is really destroyed. When you look at him, at first you see a pale guy with green hair, but you look deeper, his skin actually has five or six layers of color. And when David saw the character, he said, ‘Why don’t you give him a scar, like those guys that cut themselves?’ so I gave Jared several facial scars and everybody was really happy with that look.
“For the Joker’s tattoos, David wanted something that said ‘Ha, ha, ha’ so he actually drew them on the body himself, and we took a picture of it for the tattoo artist and then we added more and more, so it all came from our discussions. And for the hair, which is dyed different kinds of green, I had seen a picture of David Bowie from the ’60s that I really loved, so that stayed in my mind.”
Unlike most superhero movies, where characters’ looks are often decided by committee, Bertolazzi insists nobody asked him to change anything for his key cast members.
“I was pretty scared about that at first,” he concedes, “but it turned out to be really easy. David was so busy, he said, ‘Listen, I have no time; just do it!’ With Harley Quinn, I tried to do the ‘worst’ make-up on her face, splashing a lot of color on her. We already had the incredible beauty of Margot Robbie, so that make-up made her look even more sensual and sexy. I think her character looked best when she’d just been in a fight, so her face was dirty and smeared with tears.”
The one Squad member Bertolazzi was not involved with was Killer Croc, a towering reptilian humanoid played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Spearheaded by KNB EFX Group, Inc. under Greg Nicotero, the character was initially designed by John Wheaton (overseen by Nicotero and Carey Jones), followed by a 3-D waist-up ZBrush version by David Grasso, who also blocked out the sculpture in clay over the actor’s lifecast.
“David [Ayer] had a very clear vision of what he didn’t want, i.e., an alligator man. He was very keen on preserving the actor underneath the prosthetic,” Nicotero explains.
“The final make-up was broken down into three pieces: a cowl, upper face—including nose and upper lip—and a lower jaw with lower lip,” Grasso says. “For the rest of the body, there were shoulder appliances, including the bicep and tricep, gloves that blended down the end of the forearms, and numerous chest and back transfers plus blenders, so there was quite a lot to do application-wise.”
Nicotero enlisted Christopher Nelson to apply the make-up in Toronto, with Sean Sansom assisting. “Kevin Wasner sculpted the dentures that were made by Grady Holder,” he adds.
“I initially came in to KNB to pre-paint some pieces for the make-up test,” Nelson recalls, “and I used colors and patterns to look like crocodile skin. We did the test in Toronto, but David Ayer wanted more of a skin disease look, utilizing Adewale’s own skin tones.
“I did some research into skin disease photos online, and Sean Sansom and I came up with a new paint job. I used a paint technique called pointillism, because I wanted each scale to have depth, so I was putting dots of three colors on each scale, so it was quite intricate. Once the new paint job was approved, I went back to KNB and pre-painted a lot of pieces for our first week of filming.”
“Chris is an amazing painter,” Sansom continues, “and he came up with this super-complex paint job that looked great, but it took him the better part of a day to paint just one set of appliances, so they were based-out in L.A. [painters included Tim Gore and Alex Diaz] and sent to us in Toronto to finish. Chris and I would pass each set back and forth, each of us adding a couple of colors, so I would go over what he did and vice versa.”
Croc had two stages of prosthetic make-up. The first was head and hands, his body covered by costume; for the other, the character removes his shirt to swim down into the sewer. “He was only supposed to shoot for two or three days in the shirtless stage,” says Nelson, “but everybody liked the look so much, they decided to make him shirtless for the last third of the movie, which was quite daunting. It entailed a lot more pieces, so I would say it was four-and-a-half hours of application every day, which we hadn’t anticipated, but I think it looks really neat!”
Suicide Squad opened Aug. 5.